Q&A: Hyatt exec on building brand with community in mind

For hotel brands, the commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion extends not only to their employees, but also to the communities in which they operate.

With Hyatt Hotels’ new Caption by Hyatt brand, which recently debuted its first location in Memphis, the hotel chain has purposely built a brand to truly be from its community, which means hotels hire local, buy local and strive for supporting locals and minorities. own companies whenever possible.

Overseeing the development of Caption by Hyatt is Crystal Vinisse Thomas, global brand leader for Hyatt Hotels Corporation’s luxury and lifestyle brands, which also include Park Hyatt, Alila, Andaz, Thomson and Hyatt Centric.

Vinisse Thomas, who previously served as a senior brand marketer for Beats by Dre at Apple, guides Caption by Hyatt’s strategy and vision and is an advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion both within the organization and across companies. communities in general.

Below, he discusses what makes Caption by Hyatt’s approach different, as well as how hotels can connect with and market their communities with inclusion in mind. She also shares her experience of climbing the corporate ladder as a woman of color and the importance of making goals achievable.

What sets Caption by Hyatt apart in the marketplace and how does it support local communities?

Caption by Hyatt is a unique addition to the Hyatt portfolio, coming together as the first brand concept to combine the design and comfort of an advanced lifestyle upscale hotel with the flexibility and self-guided options of a service property select.

What I love about Caption by Hyatt is that it’s a brand that doesn’t shy away from mixing things up, and this is best shown through our food and beverages. The F&B program is often an afterthought in the select-service segment, but at Caption by Hyatt, we’re bringing this front and center to the guest experience with our Talk Shop concept. Designed to be an all-day gathering place for everything you need and crave, Talk Shop truly blends many facets of F&B and is designed to be completely flexible to meet guests’ needs at any time of day, whether it’s for hang out, work, socialize and everything in between.

Also fundamental to the brand is the intention to be truly of the community, not just in it. Each Caption by Hyatt hotel will be different while also having that unmistakable neighborhood feel, where the people make the place. At Caption by Hyatt Beale Street Memphis, our first global property opening its doors in June, we’re doing everything we can to ensure the hotel and the community serve each other. We are striving to partner with local businesses, such as local craft brewers, and provide a platform for minority and women-owned businesses as much as we can through partnerships, programming, and contracting.

What can hotels do to start recruiting and promoting more local people and businesses, particularly people of color and minority-owned businesses?

The first thing I recommend hotels do is get to know their community. Have first hand conversations, form an open dialogue and build a relationship. Seek to connect with locals and listen and learn from them so you not only provide an authentic experience for your guests, but also honor the culture of the place your hotel calls home.

It’s important to have conversations at the corporate level to create a welcoming culture that supports the communities in which you operate.

crystal vinisse thomas

Going one step further, it’s also important to have conversations at the corporate level to create a welcoming culture that supports the communities in which you operate. I oversee six brands here at Hyatt – Andaz, Alila, Caption by Hyatt, Hyatt Centric, Park Hyatt and Thompson Hotels – and overall, creating an authentic experience for our guests that provides a distinctive sense of place is a top priority. Partnering with locals and neighborhood businesses does just that.

I’m a natural storyteller and as I approach each of my marks, I ask myself, “What kind of story are we telling here?” Our guests come from all kinds of backgrounds, so inclusion and representation are critical when it comes to storytelling for a hotel brand. As we listen to our guests, members, and clients, we understand the importance of valuing their diverse and unique perspectives.

To use Caption by Hyatt as an example, our guests are creators, entrepreneurs, hustlers, dreamers and belief-driven shoppers who prioritize both style and substance in everything they do, buy, post and perform. So we’ve designed Caption by Hyatt hotels to be an open space for the community and travelers of all kinds.

How can hotel brands incorporate diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) into their marketing campaigns?

I think we need to be careful not to try to overtly incorporate DEI into campaigns just to tick a box. Today’s consumer (and marketers alike) will pick up on that and catch our eye. DEI has to be part of your day-to-day and embedded in your culture, and most importantly, we have to hold ourselves and our partners accountable for how we present ourselves.

In my work, I intend to ensure that our campaigns and assets represent the reality of not only the world I live in, but also that of our consumers. We have introduced new marketing principles that guide how to photograph inclusively to capture accurate representation for our guests and members. Lead with inclusion, be genuine in your message, and create campaigns that represent the audience you’re trying to reach.

Earlier this year, the Castell Project found that women hold a leadership position for every 10.3 men holding a leadership position, compared to 2019, when there was a woman in a leadership position versus 11.2 men. . How can the industry elevate more women to leadership positions?

Take responsibility and just do it. I recognize how easy it is to look only within your own network to recruit and promote, but we need to start doing the work and expanding our circles beyond what we know. There are so many talented executive women in my group chat, alone! So supply is not the challenge: we need a greater collective effort to start closing the gap.

At Hyatt, we recognized that we weren’t where we wanted or needed to be, so we set goals and turned them into practices. By 2025, we have a goal of doubling the representation of women and people of color in key leadership roles. Today, we are already seeing more women in leadership positions compared to 2020; And in 2021 alone, we increased our representation of Black leaders at all levels of the organization.

How are you helping create opportunities for women and people of color in hospitality?

For most of my career, I have been “the only one” or one of the few who resembles me in the room and even more so now as an executive. This has lit a fire under me to educate budding leaders, both inside and outside our industry, who can aspire to any role in hospitality, in various disciplines beyond the hotel itself. Knowing that is half the battle, so I try to spread that message as much as I can.

Early in my career, I didn’t realize branding was a “thing” in hospitality until I shared my passion for storytelling with one of the corporate recruiters, who then helped me pivot in that direction. Now that I’m here, I’m passionate about giving that same energy to others by being visible and sharing my experience, so they know they can be here too. I have had several opportunities to connect with future leaders through Hyatt’s collaborations with the Chicago Urban League and the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality (of which I was a fellow in undergrad), and various programs through the network of Cornell diversity alumni.

As you can imagine, representation is incredibly important to me personally. I am especially interested in having diverse and dynamic people on my team and holding a high standard to create an inclusive culture; frankly, that’s the key to unlocking the best and most creative ideas! My first hire at Hyatt was a Black woman, and as we look to grow, I am always mindful of how I can directly impact creating spaces and opportunities for women and people of color to thrive in our industry. And to be clear, that’s not something that requires a lot of effort for me; It is always the most important thing as part of who I am.

Can you talk about specific DEI initiatives you are involved with at Hyatt? How do these initiatives reflect the Hyatt brand and mission?

One of the major DEI initiatives we have at Hyatt is called Change Starts Here, which launched in June 2020. Change Starts Here is our commitment to promote DEI throughout our business in three key categories: who we employ, develop and promote ; who we support; and who we shop with and partner with. I’m particularly proud of the progress we’re making in who we do business with, especially as we diversify our supplier base. In 2021, Hyatt identified 220 new Black vendors and achieved nearly $4 million in Black vendor spend.

Another effort I’m proud of at Hyatt is RiseHy, a global program we launched in 2018 designed to link hospitality industry career opportunities to young people who need them. As part of the initiative, Hyatt hotels around the world commit to hiring 10,000 Opportunity Youth (people ages 16-24 who are neither in school nor in work and come from challenging socioeconomic circumstances) by 2025. Through this initiative, we are using the power of technology, including virtual reality, to scale career opportunities and raise awareness of hospitality careers. RiseHY aims to prepare candidates for success from the start and expand training programs as a path not only to employment but also to advancement within the hospitality industry.

Both initiatives reflect Hyatt’s brand and mission of caring for people so they can be their best selves, and more importantly, our commitment to accelerating DE&I efforts across the organization.

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